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Man arrested in connection with fiery crash that killed Santa Rosa teen

A Santa Rosa man has been arrested in connection with a fiery car crash that killed a 16-year-old girl along Highway 101 over the weekend, authorities said Wednesday.

Jhovanne Velazquez, 27, is suspected of driving the Toyota Camry that veered off the freeway and flipped over next to a shopping center parking lot, where it was found engulfed in flames just after 3 a.m. Saturday, the CHP said.

Authorities found a girl’s body in the passenger seat and identified her on Monday as Yaquelin Garcia Magdaleno, 16, of Santa Rosa.

Those who knew Yaquelin said she would have been a junior at Santa Rosa High School in the fall.

“It’s just tragic what happened,” Santa Rosa resident Jose Hernandez, 20, said Wednesday at the crash site. He had come to pay his respects at a makeshift memorial erected for his friend, Yaquelin, whom he said he’d known for about three years.

Yaquelin’s friends and family are continuing to piece together the events that took place the night of the crash. Investigators are doing the same thing.

“Before more information started coming forward, we didn’t know if she was the driver or even who she was,” CHP Officer David deRutte said Wednesday, recounting the early part of the investigation. “Everything just started unfolding over the last few days.”

Loved ones believe Yaquelin and Velazquez had gone to a party in Napa and were on their way home when they crashed — less than 5 miles from where they each lived near Comstock Park in northwest Santa Rosa.

Investigators believe the Toyota was headed north on Highway 101, just south of the Yolanda Avenue exit, when it drifted off the road and over a ditch.

It smashed through a chain-link fence and hit two trees before landing upside-down between the highway and the shopping center parking lot on Santa Rosa Avenue.

Officials said they received information that Velazquez was dropped off at a hospital for injuries following the crash, but there’s no record of him being admitted, deRutte said.

Velazquez was identified as a suspect after interviews with relatives, deRutte said, adding that he was then arrested at an unspecified location Wednesday on suspicion of vehicular manslaughter and hit-and-run resulting in injury.

It is unclear whether drugs or alcohol played a role in the crash, but authorities said Velazquez was wanted on warrants related to unspecified sex crimes in Sonoma County.

A check of Sonoma County Superior Court records on Wednesday did not turn up any information on Velazquez involving suspected sex crimes.

Court records also did not indicate that any arrests warrants had been issued for anyone matching Velazquez’s name or description. In addition, it could not immediately be confirmed Wednesday that he had any criminal history.

DeRutte said investigators believe Velazquez and Yaquelin were in a relationship that would have been illegal given their ages — a claim the teenager’s loved ones and friends dispute.

Santa Rosa resident Isabel Albor, 24, said her 19-year-old cousin, Angel Arciga, had been Yaquelin’s boyfriend. They’d been together for nearly five years, she said.

Arciga, who lives in Fresno with his family, was supposed to come to Santa Rosa on Saturday to see Yaquelin, but instead he learned she’d been killed in a crash, Albor added.

“He’s heartbroken,” she said.

Yaquelin, her mother and younger brother lived in a home owned by Velazquez’s father. Velazquez lived there also, Albor said.

Yaquelin moved to Santa Rosa when she was 9 years old. She enjoyed dancing and once in high school, she became a cheerleader.

“Everyone was trying to persuade her to be a model. She loved to take pictures,” Albor said.

Yaquelin aspired to become a nurse. Unafraid of hard work, she had two jobs to help support her family. She was a waitress at a restaurant and picked grapes in an agricultural field, Albor said.

Her family set up a GoFundMe account to raise money to pay for her funeral, which has yet to be arranged.

Albor said people have been to the makeshift memorial every day since the crash and she plans to visit it frequently to honor Yaquelin.

“We’re all broken, just because she was such an amazing person,” Albor said.

You can reach Staff Writer Matt Pera at matthew.pera@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @Matt__Pera.

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